Acid Reflux is a very common problem which can cause symptoms such as a burning chest pain, sometimes also known as heartburn, indigestion or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The reason is usually that at the entrance to your stomach is a valve; a ring of muscle called the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, the LES closes as soon as food has passed through it, but if the LES doesn’t close all the way or if it opens too often, acid produced in your stomach can move up into your oesophagus. (1)
Common causes of acid reflux are:
- Eating large meals or lying down right after a meal
- Being overweight or obese
- Eating a heavy meal and lying on your back or bending over at the waist
- Snacking close to bedtime
- Eating certain foods, such as citrus, tomato, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions, or spicy or fatty foods
- Drinking certain beverages, such as alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee, or tea
- Being pregnant
- Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, certain muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications
Nothing ruins a great meal as much as a painful bout of heartburn or indigestion, and although over-the-counter meds are often effective, home remedies might help without the trip to the pharmacy. Whether you’ve overindulged in a spicy dish or lots of fatty foods, these five natural remedies could help soothe heartburn and ease your stomach.
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Lots of research has suggested that chewing gum, as well as freshening breath, can help with digestion. This is nothing to do with the ingredients, although the inclusion of peppermint might help, but is more to do with the action of chewing which helps generate saliva.
Apparently, in a small study from the Journal of Dental Research, people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms experienced heartburn relief when they chewed a piece of sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after a meal.
“Chewing gum stimulates the salivary flow rate,” says study author Rebecca Moazzez, DPhil, clinical lecturer in King’s College London’s department of restorative dentistry. “Any acid that accumulates in the gut is washed away and cleared more quickly. The clearance of acid improves GERD symptoms.”
It might be considered an ‘old wives tale’ but a little sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) really can help with indigestion or heartburn. “Baking soda is OK for most people with heartburn,” says Jacqueline Wolf, MD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
“Because it’s a base, it helps neutralize [stomach] acid.” Dr. Wolf, author of A Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Stomach, recommends mixing between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon of baking soda with a glass of water. It has a pH higher than 7.0, and therefore neutralizes stomach acid. Neutralizing the stomach acid means that if/when your LES allows acid to come up your throat, you don’t get “burned.”
You will need…
- 1/2 teaspoon or 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- a glass of fresh water
Mix either a ½ to 1 teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of water that is no more than 8 ounces. Give it a good stir and drink all of the mixture. You can repeat this as needed but should not exceed seven ½ teaspoon doses in a 24 hour period.
However, if you are experiencing regular symptoms you may need to seek professional help because baking soda is high in salt and could cause side effects like swelling and nausea if taken for prolonged periods.
Research on this is limited, but there is good reason to suggest that liquorice could ease heartburn and get to the source of the problem. According to Susan Blum, MD, founder and director of the Blum Centre for Health in Rye Brook, N.Y. “The contents of your stomach are supposed to be acidic…which is why antacids are not the solution”.
Liquorice has natural stomach healing properties which can help alleviate the symptoms of indigestion and heartburn but be careful as eating a lot of liquorice could also have serious side effects like high blood pressure. There are types of liquorice such as DGL liquorice which doesn’t contain the potentially dangerous glycyrrhizin acid.
Trying chewable DGL liquorice tablets before meals is one recommendation, and these are available at most natural-food stores. There are now even brands that do not taste like liquorice.
Aloe is a wonder plant used extensively to soothe burns, but is incredibly effective for a multitude of other symptoms, one of which is stomachs and the digestive system in general. Aloe Vera juice reduces inflammation and so calms any inflammation that is in the oesophagus as well as the stomach.
Drinking 1/2 cup before meals has proven to help, although it should be noted that the juice can be a laxative and is great for treating constipation! It is possible to find brands which have had the laxative component removed.
Despite limited official research, slippery elm has been used in herbal remedies for centuries to treat a variety of illnesses, including GERD symptoms. This tree extract works by thickening the layer of mucous lining in the stomach and creating a stronger barrier against acid.
Slippery elm is a demulcent that offers a coating or protective layer to the tissue of the stomach. The most common form of consumption of slippery elm is a couple of tablespoons in water after meals and at bedtime.
These are just five of the most well-known cures for indigestion / acid reflux, but there are others such as eating bananas or apples which contain natural antacids, or drinking ginger root tea which can help with a host of stomach complaints from nausea to acid reflux, or even mustard, which is an alkalizing food that is full of minerals, and contains a weak acid in the form of vinegar, although this might take some getting used to! (2)
Acid reflux can also be helped by following a few simple rules:
- Watch how you eat: Don’t over eat, take smaller bites and chew, chew, chew, eating slowly, allowing your stomach time to digest and without giving it an excuse to pump out excess acid.
- Watch what you eat: Try to work out what triggers your heartburn, usually foods high in acid (tomatoes or citrus fruits, for example,) or spicy foods. Avoid these where possible to reduce the occurrence of acid reflux.
- When you eat: Don’t eat within 3-4 hours before you go to bed as lying down puts more pressure on your LES and increases the likelihood of acid getting past it and into your oesophagus. (3)